Friday, September 7, 2012

Surviving College Exams

Whitney Barnett
Outreach Coordinator

College Exams—they’re inevitable, much-dreaded assessments we encounter as students. Most of us wish that we could go through school without encountering these daunting creatures, and for some of us, the word “exams” may trigger feelings of dread and anxiety or bring about haunting memories of past experiences. Although we may dislike them, it is very unlikely that exams will ever disappear from academia. Therefore, as students we must find methods of coping with these creatures by associating positive feelings and confidence with them. This bond can be created when we learn how to effectively and efficiently prepare for college exams.
Most incoming college freshmen are very surprised at how different college is from high school when it comes to preparing for exams. Charles Lappin, a senior and Business Marketing and Communications major, writes:
"As a freshman leaving your parents’ house for the first time is one of the greatest feelings ever. You have the freedom to do what you want when you want; the only thing you should be worried about is the first round of exams that will be coming up shortly. If you are anything like me you are thinking to yourself, 'I'll wait till the night before to start studying.' Well I was wrong about that and you will be too, so get a head start on these first exams because as I have found out it is not fun trying to catch up in a class after a bad first exam."
Unfortunately, many of us students have similar stories to this. We earned low scores on our college exams taken during freshman year, because we weren’t equipped to plan for college exams. What many freshmen (including myself at the time) don’t realize is that planning for college exams starts at the beginning of each semester. Each day you can take small steps to help yourself do well on your upcoming exams. To help make sense of this advice and to gain the confidence you need to do well on college exams, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most commonly stated exam-preparation tips that we’ve heard over the years.

Tips for preparing for college exams:
1.     Be prepared for class. After your first days of classes, make sure to read your syllabi, which are simply lists of expectations and important due dates and deadlines for each class. Take time to make note of assignments and readings that are expected to be completed before each class, and actually use this knowledge to prepare for class. If you show up to class with readings and assignments completed, you’ll be able to actively engage in the conversations and understand the lectures that take place inside the classroom.
2.     Be attentive in class. Believe it or not, most of the information that you learn in your classes is useful and important! And you might find that a lot of the information you learn will someday show up again in another course or in everyday life. With this (and exam prep) in mind, try to find some intrinsic motivation to care about the information you learn by associating that information with something that you like or makes sense to you. For example, you might compare a math example to some of your own daily transactions or activities. Try to see how the information relates to the real world. This will help you to remember the information and to absorb it as you’re taking notes.
3.     Be a good note-taker. Being a good note-taker will help you prepare for the exam. When I take notes, I assume that I won’t remember anything from lectures; therefore, I write down everything! Yes, this does mean that I have a lot of notes from my classes. Therefore, I spend some additional time outside of class to highlight important concepts based on the instructor’s teaching. When the instructor spends a relatively long amount of time or is enthusiastically sharing certain points or concepts, I assume that I’m going to see that information again on an exam.
4.     Make a study schedule. I often hear that students should study two hours for every one hour in class. The easiest way to accomplish this study habit is to schedule those hours! Make a weekly study plan (in Excel or Word) with seven columns to represent each day of the week. Add enough rows to represent 30-minute increments of time, starting with the time you wake up and the time you plan to go to sleep. Now that you have your chart, fill in the times that you’re going to be in class, and then fill in any other commitments that you may have: appointments, meetings, work, etc. Now that you have a schedule of your time commitments, you can find time to study for your classes, and you can pencil in a few hours to hang out with friends, exercise, etc.  Please note: make sure you leave free time for eating, getting ready in the morning, walking to class, etc.
5.     Make an exam study schedule. Studying for an exam requires time in addition to those hours you spend studying for class. To prepare for exam study time, mark the date on your calendar and start studying seven days in advance. On day 7 before the exam, reserve a few hours to go over notes and to plan how you’re going divide and conquer the information. Increase your hours of studying each day, allowing for breaks in between each hour to breathe and relax. Following a schedule like this will allow you to avoid those ineffective all-nighters.
6.     Use your resources. You have a lot of resources! Start with the instructor. Sometimes it can be intimidating talking to an instructor; sometimes we feel that we may be wasting their time if we approach them with a question or request assistance with our homework. I’ve learned over the years that these notions were derived from my own personal insecurities. Our instructors are here because they want us to succeed, and they enjoy teaching us! Schedule appointments during their office hours or talk to them after class. In addition, you can use your peers as resources: form study groups, study one-on-one, or go to the FREE peer tutoring sessions at Academic Enhancement.
7.     Be kind to yourself. This is may be next to last on the list, but it is definitely important. School is tough, especially during exam time. As a student myself, I know that I don’t always get enough sleep, exercise, or nutritional intake when preparing for exams. However, depriving your body of these essential necessities is unhealthy and can make you perform poorly in school. My advice is to schedule time to rest, exercise, and sit down for a healthy meal during the day—even if it’s only for a short amount of time—so that your body is healthy and you can perform well in school. In addition, plan about 20 minutes out of your day to do something non-school related. This can be time to chat with friends, watch reruns of Grey’s Anatomy, or to sit outside and crochet. Whatever it may be, use the time to calm your nerves and to keep your sanity.
8.     Learn from your mistakes. We all make mistakes, right? Whether it’s not scheduling enough time to prepare for exams or not getting enough sleep the night before the exam, we always find ways to improve our exam-preparation and exam-performance skills. Once the exam is over, find time to evaluate your skills and your performance on the exam, and then PLAN to improve these skills. Think of ways that you could do better, write them down, and then use that knowledge to do better next time. Even if you found 30 ways in which you could improve your exam-preparation skills, try not to be too hard on yourself. You can’t recreate the past, but you can control what you do in the future.

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